PARIS Mali government officials will meet northern Tuareg separatist rebels in Algiers on July 16, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Tuesday, indicating progress in their stalled peace talks.
The meeting will be the first since clashes in the northern Tuareg stronghold town of Kidal in May during which some 50 Malian soldiers were killed.
France, Mali's former colonial power, its northern neighbor Algeria and the West Africa regional bloc ECOWAS are pushing both sides to hold talks that could end decades of Tuareg uprisings in Mali's desert north.
A 2012 uprising led to a military coup in the capital and the occupation of the northern half of the country by better armed Islamist militants who had allied with the rebels. The militants were later driven out by a French-led intervention.
Fabius told the French parliament's foreign affairs committee that discussions led by Algeria have been positive and Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has indicated his willingness to see talks lead to a positive outcome.
"(The talks) are coordinated by the whole region and a conference has been scheduled for Algiers on the 16th of this month with the Malian government and the northern groups," Fabius said.
Fabius added that the meeting, if held, would signify that things are heading in the right direction.
Mali's separatist movements are demanding greater autonomy for northern Mali, which they term Azawad.
The three main rebel group include the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the Arab Movement of Azawad (MMA) and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA).
(Reporting by John Irish; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Tom Heneghan)